Editor’s Note: It is almost a cliche to say that technology is disrupting countless categories around the world. It is hard to keep up with developments. Here, Kaleem Khan discusses some of the major technological advances in Healthcare on the near-term horizon. I can personally attest to the incredible benefits of these technological advances: About six years ago, I had robotic, minimally-invasive surgery. I was out of the hospital in two days, and was back at work in about a week; before robotics, my recovery would have taken two months (and I’m still fine, by the way). I saw my surgeon a few years later,, and he told me that they were implementing a procedure that is significantly better than the one they used on me. It truly is amazing. The challenge here in the US anyway, is not just technology, but the cost and the broad availability of these advances.
Technology continues to develop at a breathtaking pace, and with it, so does the countless applications that continue to improve our lives. Healthcare has always been at the forefront of technological development and now is no exception. Here are some of the most amazing technologies that continue to revolutionize healthcare.
Robotics in Healthcare
Healthcare professionals have been using robotics for over 30 years, but as technology continues to advance, the use of robotics has increased at a similar pace. In fact, according to the new market intelligence report, the global healthcare robotics market is expected to witness a growth rate of 12.64% by 2023.
Robotics is being increasingly used to assist with surgeries and can improve surgical techniques and precision whilst reducing the risk of errors. Robotics has been used since 2000 to allow surgeries to be undertaken in a minimally invasive way, which aids patient recovery.
The area of robotics in healthcare that is expected to see the highest increase in investment is rehabilitation robots. In Japan, a nursing care robot has been developed to assist care professionals by undertaking a variety of tasks, such as lifting patients from beds, helping them stand and walk, and generally assisting patients to remain independent for longer.
Robotics is also being used in healthcare in less direct ways. For instance, Xenex is a robot that has been designed to thoroughly disinfect healthcare facilities by using high-intensity UV light. Hygiene is currently a critical issue in hospitals, as 1 in every 25 patients in U.K. hospitals is estimated to catch a hospital-acquired infection. Regarding this, Xenex can significantly improve current processes.
Next Generation Sequencing and Genetic Analysis
A genome is a complete set of DNA and genes and is unique for everyone. It can also provide information on the physiology, susceptibility to diseases, and responses to specific drugs for an individual. Fortunately, the next-generation sequencing (NGS) technology allows us to map genomes easily and use the data gathered to identify problem genes, develop improved treatments, and uncover in-depth information about diseases. NGS technology could revolutionize healthcare and lead to truly personalized treatment that is based on our genetic makeup. The NGS market is projected to grow by over $9.91 billion by 2024.
Genetic analysis can improve preventative medicine as well as treatment. A good example of this is the breast cancer gene or BRCA1. This is a gene that can mutate and cause breast cancer in a patient. This means that breast cancer would be more common in a family that carries this mutation. However, if this gene can be screened for, doctors can recommend precautions and lifestyle changes to help minimize the risk.
The main advances in genome sequencing from NGS technologies are increased speed and accuracy. Genome sequencing is done by using parallel analysis, which sequences multiple genes simultaneously. NGS has the potential to increase our current understanding of biomedicine and reshape clinical care.
The Personal Genome Project is a long term, large-scale study that aims to sequence the complete genomes and medical records of 100,000 volunteers. The study began in 2005 and has the goal of using the data to share with medical professionals and help medical research and scientific progress.
Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality
Both augmented reality and virtual reality have a wide range of applications in healthcare. Augmented reality adds digital elements to existing reality by using something like a smartphone camera. Virtual reality, on the other hand, creates a fully immersive simulated environment through a headset. A new market intelligence report estimates a huge growth for AR and VR technologies in the healthcare industry in the coming future, driven primarily by an increasing need for AR-based surgeries.
Augmented reality lets healthcare professionals gather and present useful data in a 3D format. An ideal example of this is a 3D representation of a patient’s body that can allow doctors to view the anatomical structure of their patient and help plan a medical procedure to reduce risks.
Both AR and VR can aid in the training of surgeons and doctors using a 3D representation of a body. This technology can also be used to educate patients on what is wrong with them and what is to happen during their surgeries, potentially putting their minds at ease.
VR has extensive applications in treating mental illnesses, such as anxiety and PTSD. Virtual reality exposure therapy is a behavioral treatment that targets negative behavior in a patient, such as avoidance, by actively confronting things that cause this behavior in virtual reality. The goal of exposure therapy is to reduce a patient’s fear and anxiety, eventually eliminating avoidance behavior altogether.
Nanoparticles are, as the name suggests, tiny particles that could be used by healthcare professionals in a variety of ways and have huge potential for scientific progress. Nanotechnology could be used to carry out treatment on a tiny scale to provide incredibly precise results whilst minimizing patient discomfort from invasive surgeries.
Nanotechnology could be used to vastly improve biological imaging. Nanoparticles could be equipped with sensors that are designed to detect tiny changes in particles and molecular signals that could identify health issues. This could be incredibly useful in certain fields, such as oncology, where early detection is vital in improving survival rates.
One of the ways that nanotechnology is most represented in the media and television is treating infections and viruses. Nanoparticles could potentially be used to treat illnesses such as pneumonia by penetrating the protective biofilm that the bacteria develop and killing the bacteria. This would be much less invasive than the surgery that is currently performed.
Nanotechnology could also revolutionize existing treatments, such as chemotherapy. Chemotherapy often comes with some severe side effects for patients due to the treatment’s inaccuracy, often targeting healthy cells as well as the damaged ones. Nanotechnology could be used by doctors to target individual mutated cells, allowing the treatment to be undertaken with incredible accuracy, reducing side effects, and improving the patient’s well-being.
In conclusion, the potential technological developments in the healthcare industry are staggering. Other than these four technologies, numerous developments are occurring across the medical industry with an aim to deliver excellent diagnostics and treatment to patients and encourage targeted therapeutics with the help of precision medicine.